UN chief urges world to stamp out religious persecution

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says the mounting attack on religious groups is alarming. (AFP / Fabrice Coffrini)
Updated 23 August 2019
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UN chief urges world to stamp out religious persecution

  • Antonio Guterres said the rise in attacks against individuals and groups around the world is alarming

UNITED NATIONS: Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged the world on the first international day to remember the victims of religious persecution to “step up to stamp out anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim hatred, the persecution of Christians and other religious groups.”
The UN chief on Thursday cited a rise in attacks against individuals and groups around the world, saying: “Jews have been murdered in synagogues, their gravestones defaced with swastikas; Muslims gunned down in mosques, their religious sites vandalized; Christians killed at prayer, their churches torched.”
Guterres said the first International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion and Belief was an opportunity to show support by doing “all in our power to prevent such attacks and demanding that those responsible are held accountable.”
He urged people everywhere to resist and reject those who “falsely and maliciously invoke religion to build misconceptions, fuel division and spread fear and hatred.”
Fifteen UN human rights experts marked the day with a call on all countries to ensure that religions and beliefs are not used to violate human rights — and to combat religious extremism.
The independent experts appointed by the UN Human Rights Council said in a joint statement that “the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief is misunderstood as protecting religions and belief instead of the people with the beliefs and those without.”
The experts, on issues ranging from freedom of religion to minorities to violence against women, emphasized the words of the General Assembly resolution sponsored by Poland and adopted in June that established the international day on Aug. 22. It said that “terrorism and violent extremism in all its forms and manifestations cannot and should not be associated with any religion, nationality, civilization or ethnic group.”
At an informal UN Security Council meeting marking the day, UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said by video from Geneva that “despite much progress, I am deeply alarmed by the worldwide rise of xenophobia, racism, religious intolerance that is menacing to our lives” as well as to democracy, social instability and peace.
“If we can’t accept diversity ... there shall be no peace in the world,” she said.
Bachelet said a key to trying to combat religious persecution is to look for “early warning signs” like discrimination and words of intolerance and take early action.
Samuel Brownback, the US ambassador at large for religious freedom, told the council that according to the Pew Forum, “83% of the global community live in countries with high or very high restrictions on the free practice of faith — and it’s getting worse, not better.”
He pointed to “the horrific actions of violence and ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims” in Myanmar, persecution of religious minorities in Pakistan “either at the hands of non-state actors or through discriminatory laws and policies,” Boko Haram’s attacks on mosques and churches in Nigeria, and the Daesh extremist group’s targeting of Iraq’s Yazidis, Christians and Shiite Turkmen “for atrocity crimes.”
Brownback said the United States is “deeply concerned” about China’s “escalating, widespread and undue restrictions” on religious groups, including Uighurs, Kazakhs and other Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, Catholics, Protestants and Falun Gong.
“We call on the Chinese government to end its war on faith and to respect religious freedom for all,” he said.
The United States also strongly opposes Iran’s “severe violations and abuses of religious freedom,” including the death penalty for blasphemy, apostasy from Islam and proselytizing Muslims, and discrimination and harassment of unrecognized minorities such as the Bahai’is and Christian converts.
British Minister of State Lord Tariq Ahmad, a special envoy on religious freedom, said religious minorities face challenges ranging from discrimination to armed conflicts, mass murders and violent assaults.
“The heinous attacks this year on places of worship from the Philippines to Burkino Faso, New Zealand to Sri Lanka, have reminded us all that the fundamental human right of freedom of religion or belief is increasingly under threat,” he told the council. “As we commemorate the victims of such acts of violence, we demonstrate our commitment to supporting research to change people’s lives and help build a world free of religious intolerance and hatred.”


Johnson the Brexit ‘Hulk’ finally meets EU’s Juncker

Updated 16 September 2019
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Johnson the Brexit ‘Hulk’ finally meets EU’s Juncker

  • Downing Street has confidently billed the Luxembourg visit as part of efforts to negotiate an orderly divorce from the union

LUXEMBOURG: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson met EU chief Jean-Claude Juncker for talks Monday insisting a Brexit deal is possible, despite deep skepticism from European capitals with just six weeks to go before departure day.
After a weekend in which he compared himself to comic book super-smasher Hulk, the British leader will enjoy a genteel working lunch of snails and salmon in Luxembourg with the EU Commission president.
Downing Street has confidently billed the Luxembourg visit as part of efforts to negotiate an orderly divorce from the union before an October 17 EU summit.
A UK spokesman said Johnson would tell Juncker that “progress has been made, given that before the summer recess many said reopening talks would not be possible.
“The UK needs to enact the referendum result and avoid another delay; the UK wants to deliver Brexit and move on to other priorities, and EU member states’ leaders want to renegotiate an orderly Brexit.”
But Brussels has played down talk of a breakthrough, insisting Johnson has yet to suggest any “legally operable” proposal to revise a previous withdrawal accord.
As he shook hands with Johnson, Juncker declared himself “cautiously optimistic” and insisted that “Europe never loses patience” despite the tortuous Brexit saga dragging on over three years.
Finland’s European affairs minister, Tytti Tuppurainen, who was chairing an EU ministerial meeting in Brussels, gave a more downbeat assessment, repeating the bloc’s long-standing complaint that London has simply not come up with detailed ideas for replacing the so-called “Irish backstop” section of the divorce deal.
“The European Union is always ready to negotiate when a proper proposal from the UK side is presented,” Tuppurainen said.
“So far I haven’t seen any proposal that would compensate the backstop.”
The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, who joined the leaders for their talks in Juncker’s native Grand Duchy, said last week he has “no reason to be optimistic.”
The European Parliament will this week vote on a resolution rejecting Johnson’s demand that the backstop clause be stripped from the deal.
Johnson insists this measure, which temporarily keeps the UK in the EU customs union, has to go if he is to bring the agreement back to the House of Commons.
But the accord will also have to win the support of the other 27 EU leaders and the European Parliament if Britain is not to crash out with no deal on October 31 — a scenario that businesses warn would bring economic chaos.
Johnson, in turn, boasts that he would rather be “dead in a ditch” than ask his European counterparts to postpone Brexit for a third time.
“Be in no doubt that if we cannot get a deal — the right deal for both sides — then the UK will come out anyway,” Johnson said, writing in the Daily Telegraph on Monday.
A UK spokesman said that Britain would refuse an extension even if one were offered.
It is difficult, then, to see what might come from the lunch. There is no plan for a joint statement, but Barnier will meet Britain’s Brexit minister Stephen Barclay for separate discussions.
Speaking to the BBC on Sunday, Barclay indicated that any post-Brexit transition period could be extended past 2020 in order to resolve issues with the border.
Johnson, meanwhile, compared himself to Marvel comics hero Hulk, the rampaging mutant alter-ego of a mild-mannered nuclear scientist.
“The madder Hulk gets, the stronger Hulk gets and he always escaped, no matter how tightly bound in he seemed to be,” Johnson told the Mail on Sunday.
Johnson’s strategy faces resistance at home, where rebel and opposition MPs have passed a law aimed at forcing him to seek a Brexit delay.
Britain’s Supreme Court will rule this week on a bid to overturn Johnson’s decision to suspend parliament and limit time to debate the crisis.
Barnier will address the European Parliament session in Strasbourg on Wednesday as MEPs vote to reaffirm and reinforce the EU Brexit stance — and insist that the backstop must stay.
After his lunch with Juncker, Johnson is due to meet Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Xavier Bettel. The pair will hold a joint news conference.